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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics and Christianity: Off and on

Theodosius I (Uploaded by Erine)
Although the Olympics have religious roots, these roots are not Christian ones.  Never was this point driven more homeward than during the reign of Theodosius I.

Theodosius I (short for Flavius Theodosius Augustus) ruled the 
Roman Empire from 379 to 395 CE.  Although Constantine had been the first Roman Emperor to ostensibly convert to Christianity, Theodosius I was the first to effectively make Christianity the empire's official religion.   More specifically, Theodosius promoted that form of Christianity which is espoused by the Nicene Creed.

All this Christian zeal on the emperor's part did not bode well for the Olympics of those days.  In fact, Theodosius I banned this Ancient Greek tradition in 393, and it did not surface again until 1896.  According to Steven Gertz of Christian History, the emperor had his reasons.  First off, there were those nasty chariot pile-ups to contend with.  Then there were the no holds-barred "boxing" matches.  One such Olympian, Damoxenos, was known to have jabbed out his opponent's intestines with his bare fingers.  Not to mention the sacrificing of pigs to Zeus and the swearing of allegiance to the Ancient Greek gods…

Ironically, it was also Christianity that helped to bring the Olympics back in full force.  Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who instituted a modern version of the games in 1896, promoted "Olympism" (an idealistic spin on what the ancient Olympics were allegedly about).  Olympism was proclaimed to be "humanity's superior religion."  Nevertheless, the games seemed a good fit for the "Muscular Christianity" that was then developing.

According to Elesha Coffman of Christian HistoryMuscular Christianity was based upon the belief that
"physical vigor" is "a reflection of moral and spiritual health."  Stemming from this belief was the proliferation
of YMCAs "which envisioned a union of body, mind and spirit, as represented in the Y's triangle."  Coffman reports that even today "the idea that fit and fresh-faced Christians make the best ambassadors for faith lives on" (an idea not lost upon countless Tebowers).


Copyright July 29, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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